|Urodera diliticollis and Megalostomis subfasciata|
This years devastating fires had forced the closure of most Arizona wilderness areas. On July 17, the entrance to the campground itself was still barricaded but a nice ranger let us park off the road anyway.
Despite some showers that had interrupted our Beetle Bash black lighting the night before it was still extremely dry, with even the drought tolerant Manzanita bushes looking yellow and about to die.
But a few Acacias were beginning to green and even to flower, and several species of Leaf Beetles were getting the message: The monsoon is coming and life can only get better.
A dominant plant family at the stronghold are the Agavaceae. Molina Beargrass, Sotol, Agaves and Yuccas provided the Apaches with fibers for baskets, soap, starchy roots and stems and edible flowers and fruit. Agaves are succulent and build up resources for a spectacular, once-in-a-lifetime bloom over many years (hence the name century plants). Yuccas are not succulent, but protected against too much evaporation by the leathery surface of their leaves. Most have extremely long tap roots to reach water sources deep in the crevasses of the granite mountain side and bloom reliably every year.
|Banana Yucca, Yucca baccata|
|Giant Agave Bug, Acanthocephala thomasi|
The gorgeous, rich yucca flowers were attracting a number of other less specialized and less beneficial guests.
Giant Agave Bugs (Acanthocephala thomasi, a coreid true bug} were mating on the flowers. Nymphs of different ages were already around. It seemed that each group of nymphs was guarded by a parent.
A big green Stink Bug was also reluctant to give up his perch at the food source.
The inside of another stand of creamy white flowers seemed strangely dark.
When I pushed the flowers apart, dozens of rust-brown blister beetles became visible. They seemed to be resting during the day, but frass patterns around them betrayed their nightly feasts on the yucca petals.
Soldier flies of several species kept landing on the leaves, maybe just using their spikiness as protection against predators. While all resembled wasps, the one one the right was an exceptionally good mimic of Paperwasps - only her twitching antennae gave her away
Predators also made use of the three radial architecture of the yucca plant: certain spiders built their three dimensional webs between the leaves, and a young mantis was hunting in the bird safe sanctuary.
|Blooming Yucca, watercolor by M. Brummermann|